Don’t privatise water sector- Activists caution

Don’t privatise water sector- Activists caution

Monday, November 4, 2019 2:12 pm

The stakeholders’ dialogue on Lagos water crisis by Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Corporate Accountability, Public Services International (PSI), Transnational Institute and the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service, Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE) and others

Daniels Ekugo

The Lagos State government, other states of the federation and the Federal Government have been advised by organised labour and rights activists to provide safe, clean and affordable drinking water to Nigerians through the public sector.

In particular, they asked the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu-led administration to jettison Public Private Participation (PPP), otherwise known as privatisation of the state water sector, but also build the political will to fulfill the fundamental human right of Lagosians through the public sector.

This was the submission of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Corporate Accountability, Public Services International (PSI), Transnational Institute and the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service, Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), among others, at a stakeholders’ dialogue on Lagos water crisis.

The objectives of the dialogue include, but not limited to advancing real solutions to the Lagos Water crisis, how to engage the Lagos State government on solutions to the water crisis, and how to strengthen the Our Water, Our Right Coalition.

In his keynote address titled: “The Lagos Water Crisis and the Imperative for Sustainable Solutions,” Country Director of Plan International Nigeria, Dr. Hussaini Abdu, argued that everyone was entitled to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use without discrimination.

He said this covers water for drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation and personal and household hygiene.Other speakers, who stressed the need for government to provide affordable water for residents are Nnimmo Bassey and Oluwafemi Akinbode of ERA/FoEN, Benjamin Anthony of AUPCTRE, Leslie Adoghame of Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development (SRADeV) and Vicky Urenma Onyekwuru of Child Health Organisation.

Specifically, Akinbode argued that government has privatised power, health, education, public road transportation and other services, which should necessarily be managed as essential social services by governments, insisting that if the people allow the Lagos State government to privatise water, “the next move would be to package air for sale to the poor masses.”

They sought probe of all loans and funding for the existing water system and infrastructure in Lagos State throughout the tenures of former Governors Babatunde Fashola and Akinwunmi Ambode, as well as the N1.6 billion given to the Lagos Water Corporation (LWC) in 2017 for rehabilitation of waterworks across the state.

The Our Water Our Right Coalition has urged Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to discontinue the planned Public-Private Partnership (PPP) in the Lagos State water sector.

At a press conference in Lagos recently, the group reiterated its position that a PPP or outright privatisation of the water sector in the state would prize potable water out of the reach of ordinary Lagosians.

‘’Governor Sanwo-Olu’s administration must hearken to the demands of Lagos citizens that it uphold the human right to water as an obligation of the government, representing the people,’’ said Philip Jakpor, Head of Media and Campaign at the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria and a spokesperson for the group.

‘’He must live up to his campaign promise to be a governor for the people of Lagos, not vested interests.’’

The Our Water Our Right Coalition is a network of civil society organisations, labour unions, community activists and faith-based groups unified in their belief that water is a common heritage and, therefore, must not be commodified.

In early October, the group organised a ‘Stakeholder Dialogue on the Lagos Water Crisis’ to call for support against the ‘’forces of privatisation that are again massing against our people.’’

‘’At the dialogue, we had anticipated that the Lagos governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, would come ready to unveil his administration’s plans for the water sector,’’ said Mr Jakpor.

‘’The invitation was equally extended to the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources as well as to the Managing Director of the Lagos Water Corporation.

‘’Unfortunately, the government only sent representatives who spoke about the interest of the current administration in invigorating the water sector but stopped short of the precise details that Lagosians demanded.’’

In its October 2019 edition, Global Water Intelligence magazine, a high-value business information for the private water industry, noted that the Lagos Water Corporation is pushing ahead with a 2019-2024 Strategic Business Plan that will make the utility profitable by 2023.

The plan involves the injection of $1.77 billion to increase water supply capacity and $115 million in extending the water network and rehabilitation.

The GWI quoted Titilola Bright-Oridami, the LWC monitoring and evaluation manager, as saying that the utility was talking to a number of potential financiers, including the World Bank and the Dutch-backed Water Finance Facility.

Mr Jakpor said their coalition is demanding the disclosure of World Bank activity and discussions with Lagos government officials regarding water, including formal and informal advisory roles.

‘’We also demand that the Lagos government build the political will to prioritise water for the people, through a comprehensive plan that invests public funds in the water infrastructure necessary to provide universal water access.’’

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